Elon Musk's Falcon 1 launches successfully
Fourth time's the charm
Multimillionaire tech visionary Elon Musk has finally achieved a long-sought goal on the fourth attempt, as his privately-funded SpaceX Falcon 1 is now circling the Earth. The rocket, launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, reached orbital velocity at 00:26 UK time.
The pocket rocket which everyone's glad to see.
"This is a great day for SpaceX and the culmination of an enormous amount of work by a great team," said Musk, who is CEO and CTO of SpaceX.
"The data shows we achieved a super precise orbit insertion—middle of the bull's-eye — and then went on to coast and restart the second stage, which was icing on the cake."
The Falcon 1 is an entirely new rocket, designed from scratch by SpaceX with a view to providing reliable and cheap access to space for smaller satellites. In this case it carried no payload, just a hexagonal aluminum alloy "payload mass simulator" massing approximately 165 kg. The company is also working on a bigger rocket design, the Falcon 9, which could carry astronauts into space in future using the planned "Dragon" capsule.
Today's success won't merely gladden hearts at SpaceX. The US space agency, NASA, expects on current plans to be without any way of launching its astronauts into orbit from 2010. The new generation of manned NASA ships - the Ares rockets and Orion capsules - are supposed to come on line in the middle of the next decade, but delays to those programmes have already occurred.
NASA will be pleased to see Musk's private space effort getting back on track, as it expects to buy space lift from him under so-called Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) procurements.
More details of the launch are available from SpaceX here - with video soon, according to the company. ®
Way to go, Elon!
Seriously. Good on him. 4th attempt and he's succeeded in getting a payload (albeit a dummy one) in orbit for a fraction of the cost of the long-established "big guys" (whom you would have though would have worked out ways of bringing the cost down by now, being experienced and all).
Frankly, his batting average is far in excess of anything NASA or the Soviets have acheived (I well remember archive footage of Goddard and friends fleeing some of their early experiments in just getting a small rocket to go straight up!)
'Is there any new technology involved or this just news because it is privately funded?'
No technological breakthroughs, but new designs for engines and pumps. This is the first time a rocket has been designed by a private company without huge injections of government money, so that's new.
It will be significant if they can design a reusable liquid-fuelled first stage. These have been really troublesome because they need lots of delicate turbo-pumps and miles of plumbing which can be easily damaged when they come back to Earth. NASA scrapped reusable boosters on the Shuttle in favour of simpler, more robust SRBs - and we know how that ended up. The Soviet Union developed reusable boosters for its Energia monster rocket, but I don't think they ever got reused after the two Energia launches.
So if they can get their technology to work, they'll be able to rival the cheap Soyuz system and the Chinese Long March - which will please Western satellite companies looking to put loads into orbit without paying through the nose and without giving away their technology. Arianespace could be the big loser here as they currently only have the big Ariane V rocket. They're planning on offering Soyuz launches out of French Guyana in the near future - getting the Earth's spin to give that some extra kick compared to launching from Kazakhstan; but they're also building a small solid-fuelled booster called Vega which is due next year.
Or on a similar train of thought, how about an oversized wooden Tardis, a fleet of Daleks or an X-wing or two? Or a big black blanket to block out the stars? 136kg of OHP acetate that when viewed from the correct angle on Earth makes the Moon look like the Death Star? Or even a bloody great mirror?
Honestly, these rich people have no idea how to have fun! I mean they could at least have cored out the aluminium mass and later claimed to have lost a bloody big bolt or formed it into a rude and amusing shape...